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Jordan Spieth eyes first PGA Tour title defense

By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange   |   March 7, 2016 at 9:06 AM
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Jordan Spieth will be returning to the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort near Tampa, Fla., where it all started for him in an epic 2015 season.

Spieth claimed the first of his five 2015 PGA Tour titles -- a list that includes the Masters and U.S. Open -- on the Copperhead Course, where he sank a 28-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole to beat Patrick Reed and Sean O'Hair.

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"It was huge," said Spieth, who joined Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Robert Gamez as the only players since 1940 to win twice on the circuit before his 22nd birthday. His first PGA Tour victory came when he defeated Zach Johnson and David Hearn of Canada in a playoff at the 2013 John Deere Classic.

Spieth, who gave a sneak preview of what was coming late in 2014 when he captured the Australian Open by six strokes and the Hero World Challenge by 10 the following week, rose to No. 6 in the World Golf Rankings with his victory at Innisbrook.

And he knew where he was going.

"What I'm really focused on is Rory McIlroy and No. 1 in the world," Spieth said after the Valspar victory. "That's who everyone is trying to chase.

"That's our ultimate goal is to eventually, you know, be the best in the world, and this is a great, great stepping stone. But going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence."

He went on to claim the first two majors of the year and added a second John Deere Classic victory in a playoff over Tom Gillis before wrapping up the year-long FedEx Cup race by winning the Tour Championship.

The talented Texan comes into the Valspar Championship having been No. 1 in the world for the last 24 weeks and a total of 35 weeks since last August.

Spieth only has eyes for a repeat performance on the Copperhead Course.

"(Repeating) would be spectacular," said Spieth, who claimed his seventh PGA Tour title by eight strokes in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January. "I think it's a challenge. I haven't had that many opportunities (as) most of my wins came last year. ...

"The thing that's toughest about it is getting over where you were the previous year and just forgetting about it. I am excited about the opportunity at the Copperhead Course. I think the tougher courses play in my favor, and I thoroughly enjoy playing there with great memories going back to 2013.

"It would be tremendous to get my title defenses off to a good start for the upcoming season."

Spieth's victory last year came in spectacular fashion, and not only because of his long putt on the third extra hole.

Already considered one of the best long putters in the history of golf, he tied for the lead on the 14th hole in the final round with a 31-foot birdie putt.

Two holes later, Spieth saved par with a 57-foot bunker shot he took with one foot in the sand and one out, knocking the ball within 3 feet of the cup. Then he closed out a 2-under-par 69 with a 32-foot putt to save par.

"Putting down the stretch," Spieth said when asked what was the key to his victory. "When you're tense and pressure is on, I really needed to make some putts that that would kind of ooze that confidence back into me that I can do this, you know.

"Your hand, you're shaking. Your stroke doesn't feel as comfortable as it does on Thursday morning, and it's about controlling that, seeing the line and still hitting it, and the last few holes proved that to me."

Of course, he showed a flair for the dramatic in his first PGA Tour victory at the John Deere when he holed a bunker shot on the final hole to get into the playoff with Johnson and Hearn.

These days, it is more surprising when Spieth doesn't pull it off.

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